Landlord settles race case for $250,000

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(March 20, 2000) -- The Fair Housing Council of Orange County announced today that the non-profit agency has reached a $250,000 settlement in a housing discrimination case against Herbert P. Wysard, Jr. and his wife Rose M. Wysard, owners of the Flowertree Apartments in Buena Park, Calif. The Fair Housing Council was joined by three individuals as plaintiffs in the action: Takisha Spears, Deana Silva and Charles Bailey, Deana Silva's minor son. Spears who is African American, and Silva who is multiracial, had complained they encountered obstacles when they tried to rent an apartment and became tenants at the Flowertree complex.

Under the settlement, the Wysards have agreed to give up direct management of all rental properties for the next five years. Due to the overwhelming evidence of many years of discriminatory practices, the Wysards agreed to hire a professional property management company that is certified by the California Apartment Association or Institute of the Real Estate Management to manage their rental properties. In addition, for the next five years the Wysards, their employees and managers must keep records of individuals inquiring about renting and make those records available to the Fair Housing Council, attend fair housing training once a year, give their tenants fair housing information and provide written notice of housing discrimination complaints to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"We are thrilled with the settlement in this case, but even more excited about the clear message that this settlement sends to individuals engaged in housing discrimination," said Elizabeth Martin, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Orange County. "Discrimination is a violation of the law and it will not be tolerated in Orange County or anywhere else," she added.

The complaint, filed in U.S. district court in Santa Ana in October 1998 by the Fair Housing Council, alleges that the Wysards discriminated on the basis of race and/or color. This is a direct violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, as well as federal and state civil rights laws.

"What really stands out about this particular case is the fact that the Wysards told their managers to avoid overt discrimination that might be identified, and directed them to make it more difficult and less desirable for blacks to rent than whites," Martin said.

Eleven former complex employees provided sworn testimony for the lawsuit, however, the key witness was Michelle Brooks, a former manager at the Flowertree complex. Brooks quit just two months after accepting the job because she was disgusted with the owner's policy of discriminating. Brooks told Spears and Silva and said that Rose Wysard had delayed the final approval of their applications, despite the fact that their acceptable credit reports had been promptly received. In addition, she told them she had been instructed by Rose Wysard to tell the applicants that the deposit would be $350 rather than $250 as a means of discouraging them from pursuing the unit.

After being contacted by the Orange County office of the NAACP, the Fair Housing Council began an 8-month investigation of the Wysard's which involved interviewing past and current property managers and sending testers posing as prospective renters. The NAACP had been contacted by Spears and Silva following Michelle Brooks' revelation of the discriminatory practices at the Flowertree complex. The suit alleged that the processing of their rental applications had been intentionally delayed and the security deposit amount increased to discourage them from renting an apartment. Despite the delay, Spears and Silva moved into the complex in June of 1997, but later left because they felt unwelcome. The Flowertree Apartment complex, comprised of 186 units, is located at 6664 Knott Avenue in Buena Park and has been under the ownership of the Wysard's since 1978.

The federal Fair Housing Act became law in 1968 and initially outlawed housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin. The Act's protections have been expanded twice. In 1974, discrimination based on sex was outlawed. In 1988, Congress made it illegal to discriminate against families with children or on the basis of handicap.

The Fair Housing Council of Orange County is a private non-profit organization formed in 1965 in the wake of the civil rights movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Council incorporated in 1968, the same year that Congress extended civil rights protections to cover housing with the adoption of the Fair Housing Act. Under the direction of a volunteer board of directors and with a paid staff of 11, it works to fulfill a mission of reducing and eventually eliminating housing discrimination in Orange County. Contracting with all of Orange County's local governments to provide fair housing services for their residents, it handles about 800 issues concerning housing discrimination in the county each year.